Searcher
Vol. 9 No. 9 October 2001
FEATURE  
International Business Multiculturalism and the Internet
by Kenneth Fink Pepperdine University
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That the World Wide Web contributes to the creation of a global economy has become accepted as fact. But what resources exist for businesspeople interested in learning about the larger world and the people who inhabit it? What Web site, for example, provides the international businessperson with an understanding of Japanese culture, including business etiquette? What online resources exist to prepare business students to step onto the global stage and play the role of a successful entrepreneur who understands not only the business market of Nigeria, but also its cultural milieu? Where can one find a discussion of multicultural, diversity issues at the university level? And even if you understand the customs, what about the language? Is there software for your computer or PDA that translates Web sites from French to English? Not surprisingly, the World Wide Web provides answers to all these questions.

While the term "global village" conjures up visions of one people, one planet, nothing could be further from the truth. Multiculturalism is a fact of business life. In international business, national characteristics and cultural norms make for an environment fraught with peril for those naïve enough to assume that people are just people and that issues like time consciousness, negotiation styles, and social formality are the same the world over. For example, Americans traditionally put people at ease through their friendliness and informality. By contrast, Europeans are more formal not only in their dress, but also in their manner. In an informal business gathering, Europeans often interpret the Americans' easy-going approach as evidence that we do not consider either the meeting or the people very important1. Consequently, many international corporations like Sun Microsystems, EDS, and IBM provide cross-cultural training to employees posted to other countries.

For an overview of how to greet one's Japanese business counterpart, one can learn the subtleties of business exchanges at http://www.gate39.com/business/bizetiquette.htm. According to Richard Bysouth, Japan is a country with a "strong sense of hierarchy [and] many unwritten laws regarding etiquette and manners that apply to the business world."2 Even offering your business card is steeped in Japanese tradition. According to Bysouth, one should always present one's business card to the recipient using both hands, holding onto the corners as you pass it forward, stating your name and company as you do so.

Another excellent resource for a country's political, economic, and cultural ethos is the U.S. State Department's Country Commercial Guides (CCGs) Index [http://www.state.gov/www/about_state/business/com_guides/].3  Click on "2001" to obtain a regional directory to the countries of the world. Japan's Country Commercial Guide, for example, contains information on Japanese business customs, as well as a lengthy discussion on the current political and economic climate in Japan.4 The 2001 Country Commercial Guide works with Adobe Acrobat software, downloadable at no charge from the Adobe Web site [http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep2.html]. Prepared annually by U.S. embassy staff and other government agencies, Country Commercial Guides are available for most of the countries of the world. Now go back to the State Department's home page and under "Countries and Regions," click on "Country Background Notes" for additional discussion of the political, business, and cultural conditions in many countries of the world.

The U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) is another important site for business people [http://www.doc.gov/]. There you will find a wealth of information on the ways to navigate the various government requirements for trading with foreign countries. The International Trade Administration, a department of the DOC, provides vital information about market access to Russia and its newly independent states, Africa, free trade zones of the Americas, Japan, and the Central and Eastern Europe Business Information Center (CEEBICnet) [http://www.trade.gov/MACFrameset.html]. Click on the CEEBICnet link to access a variety of resources for conducting business in the region. There are Regional Resources for market research, small business support, key contacts, and U.S. Embassy reports. Click on any of the Country Resources links for detailed information and resources for conducting business in that country. Under Croatia, for example, they provide additional links and information on how to export to Croatia, market research on Croatia, the latest economic and commercial news, U.S. companies in Croatia, and other valuable information. The DOC can greatly aid the businessperson or the business traveler interested in developing trade or in simply developing a more complete picture of a region or country.

An interesting, but subscription-based Web site, for business travelers is the International Business Reports for Corporate Intranets [http://www.worldbiz.com/library.html]. Here you will find a list of the world's major countries with reports on "individual business practices, business customs, protocol, negotiating, cross-cultural communication, business entertainment, gift-giving, social etiquette" forms. While the subscription model ranges from 3 days to 3 months to 1 year, the annual cost to access all of the countries in this database is $1,800.

For historical country studies, one can also explore at no charge the Library of Congress Country Studies [http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/cshome.html]. These are actually books originally published between 1987 and 1998 and now online full-text. Click on "Browse" to view a list of the countries available. Clicking on Mexico, for example, brings up a table of contents that includes discussion of all aspects of Mexico from its history to the current structure of its society.

Businesspeople understand that one of the keys to productivity is a motivated workforce. International businesses are especially sensitive to multicultural issues that affect employees from a variety of racial, ethnic, national, and international backgrounds. EDS, an international corporation with 70,000 employees in 30 countries, teaches employees the value of multicultural sensitivity. EDS's program, Workforce Diversity, insures that employees in every EDS office around the world understand the diversity issues affecting a specific country's particular workforce. Where U.S. employees might focus on racial and gender diversity issues, in other countries, Workforce Diversity programs may center on the bitterness between social classes following a civil war or perhaps a history of tension between two ethnic groups.

Sun Microsystems and Digital Equipment Corporation also provide employee training in communicating and managing across cultures. As former Assistant Secretary of Labor, Cari M. Dominguez, observed, "Corporations are looking for people who are not only talented and accomplished in their field, but also comfortable with other cultures and fluent in languages. They want someone who will blend in and be sensitive to traditions that may be different than in America."5
 

For Tomorrow's Businessperson
Businesspeople may also benefit from the global perspective of the United Nations' Web site [http://www.un.org/english/], which can be explored in English, French, Chinese, Russian, Spanish, or Arabic. At the home page, click "Member States" to visit the home pages of member states such as Bangladesh, where one will find information on the history and customs of the country, as well as links to trade organizations.

Today's business schools and business students have a multinational and multicultural focus. The Internet has created a global market that ranges from individuals selling tie clasps from their home in Australia to corporations selling airplane supply parts in Southern California. According to IZAR.com, a global Web site translation consultant, "By 2003 two-thirds of the worldwide online users will reside outside the U.S." Business schools are responding to this new reality by training students to create and seize global online business opportunities and to conduct business from any country. Many U.S. schools now offer a master's of International Business (MIB) that attracts both American and international students. Americans have the opportunity to immerse themselves in a foreign language and culture in preparation for, in some cases, a year-long internship studying and working for an international firm. And international students prepare themselves in their home country (and in the U.S.) for study at American universities and internships with U.S. corporations. At Pepperdine University, where this writer is employed, students in the MIB program at the Graziadio School of Business and Management begin their preparation for international business internships through intense study of the country's business culture, national and regional institutions, and language fluency. The vast majority of MBA programs offer a concentration in International Business.

Created by the U.S. Congress to internationalize teaching and research programs at graduate business schools in the United States, the Center for International Business Education and Research (CIBER) is a remarkable resource for business students and business professionals [http://ciber.centers.purdue.edu]. Twenty-eight universities make up CIBER and serve as national and regional resources for businesspeople, university faculty members, and graduate students. A list and map of the 28 university centers appear at http://ciber.centers.purdue.edu/local_cibers/main.html. CIBER centers share information on scholarly publications by faculty; business outreach activities in their respective communities; research, curriculum, and language programs.

American business students, as well as business professionals with a global focus, will find many university Web sites excellent resources for learning about international business and multiculturalism. The Foster Business Library at the University of Washington has created an invaluable Web site with links to 46 academic business libraries across the nation [http://www.lib.washington.edu/business/abl.html]. Business libraries collect useful links to business resources. For example, Michigan State University has a wonderful meta-site for international business issues [http://globaledge.msu.edu/ibrd/ibrd.asp]. Links include "Regional/Country Specific Information," "News and Periodicals" (both global and country specific), world stock exchanges, government resources, and culture and language resources. Cultural and Language resources link to a Web site that includes topics such as "Global Business Etiquette," "Business Netiquette International," "The Web of Culture-Cross Cultural Communication," and "International Holidays Around the World," to name just a few.

Northwestern University Library offers an invaluable Web site with links to "International Government Organizations" [http://www.library.northwestern.edu/govpub/resource/internat/igo.html]. Virtually every corner of the globe is represented. So one can go to Andean Community in South America, for example, and find links to chambers of commerce, industrial associations, and government requirements for trading with Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela [http://www.comunidadandina.org/english.htm]. Are you interested in researching the business or investment opportunities in the emerging Vietnamese market? The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEG) network provides valuable information to compare with the assessment found in the U.S. State Department's Country Commercial Guides [http://www.apecsec.org.sg/]. Northwestern University has presented all of us with a great gift.

University Web sites also offer businesspeople a wealth of information and insight into different cultures and races and how they view the world. While this knowledge may be of value from a business marketing perspective, it also enlarges one's understanding of the world, which has value in itself. The University of Maryland has a Diversity Database with links to a host of topics in the area [http://www.inform.umd.edu/EdRes/Topic/Diversity/General/Internet/]. As business students need to become students of culture, they should find the University of Maryland's Diversityweb [http://www.diversityweb.org/], an interesting site for discussion of multiculturalism issues in the workplace, Library of Congress area studies on diversity, cross-cultural communication, and particularly Diversity2000.com

Created by Computer Consulting Associates International, Inc., Diversity 2000 [http://www.div2000.com/] is worth noting for its function as an "Information Center for Multicultural Owned Businesses and Fortune 1000 Companies." Calling itself "an online hub for supplier diversity" the Web site connects Women and Minority [owned] Business Enterprises (W/MBEs) with business contacts inside the Fortune 1000 companies. Having both suppliers and buyers sharing access to each other's databases brings W/MBE suppliers and Fortune 1000 buyers together. Suppliers and buyers can register their firms at no charge. Recently, 50,000 W/MBEs voted American Express as the premier company promoting multicultural business opportunities. Other companies near the top of the list include IBM, Boeing, Microsoft, 3Com, Wal-Mart, and Cisco Systems.

Business students and entrepreneurs should have access to historical materials that reflect the growing multicultural, multiracial world we live in. For a refreshingly iconoclastic view of African American and Native American history, Will Karkavelas' Multicultural Resources on the Internet contains a mixed bag of documents and services for and about African and Native Americans. These texts include poetry, oral histories, even links to PBS programs like Africans in America. There are book reviews, author interviews, oral narratives, even legal and other social resources available to Native Americans [http://www.lang.osaka-u.ac.jp/~krkvls/index.html].

Business students and professionals can better appreciate from a multicultural perspective the unique history of the Western United States at the Web site of the American Studies Program at Washington State University. Devoted to the past and present history of the Western part of the United States, the Web site includes resources about the contributions made by Native Americans, African Americans, Asian and Pacific peoples, Chicanos and Latinos, European Americans, and women in the West. The site links to literary texts and Western literature, online articles, reviews, online discussion groups, courses and syllabi, bibliographies, art museums and galleries, scholarly associations, libraries, popular culture and folklore, and natural history [http://www.wsu.edu:8080/~amerstu/mw/].

The Web site for the California Ethnic and Multicultural Archives at the University of California at Santa Barbara [http://www.library.ucsb.edu/speccoll/cema/] has not only a useful collection of primary documents that chronicle the "cultural and political experiences of African American, Asian American, Chicano/Hispanic, and Native Americans in California," but also links to additional Web resources like the Chicano/Latino Net [http://latino.sscnet.ucla.edu/], Japanese American History Archives, and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

Business students can also learn much about other cultures by examining Susan A. Vega Garcia's brilliant "Diversity and Ethnic Studies Recommended Websites and Research Guides" at Iowa State University [http://www.public.iastate.edu/~savega/divweb2.htm]. This is an excellent collection of online directories, index sites, clearinghouses, portals, e-journals, subject directories, and library research guides for African Americans, Asian Americans, Gay/Lesbians, U.S. Latinos, and American Indians.

Even if looking at the world through the eyes of another culture or another race were only just good business sense, one hopes it will always have the unintended effect of enlarging one's appreciation for the shared values of humanity: mutual respect and trust, profit through ethical transactions, meaningful work, and shared goals all the values that expand communities, global or local.



Footnotes

1. Wederspahn, Gary M. "Managing Cultural Differences: Challenges for Americans Doing Business in Europe." Site Selection, Dec. 1997/Jan. 1998, 1104-1109.

2. Bysouth, Richard (12/17/2000). Japanese Business Etiquette An Overview. http://www.gate39.com/business/bizetiquette.htm. Last accessed 5/18/2001.

3. U.S. State Department. Country Commercial Guide. http://www.state.gov/. Last accessed 5/18/2001.

4. Country Commercial Guide: Japan (2001). http://www.state.gov/www/about_state/business/com_guides/2001/eap/index.html. Last accessed 5/14/2001.

5. Heller, Michele A. "Managing Global Diversity." Hispanic, vol. 6, Issue 5, June 1993, page 66.


Kenneth Fink's e-mail address is kenneth.fink@pepperdine.edu
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